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A Definitive Ranking Of The Last 22 Super Bowl Halftime Shows

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    A_Definitive_Ranking_Of_The_Best_Super_Bowl_Performances4_Anna_Sudit
    Photo; Chris Graythen/Getty Images; Illustrated by Anna Sudit.

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    This Sunday, at Super Bowl XLIX, expect deflated footballs and inflated egos as the Patriots battle the Seahawks and Katy Perry and Lenny Kravitz rock the halftime show. Perry's performance will mark the 23rd since Super Bowl halftimes became a thing in 1993, when Michael Jackson used his inimitable artistry and a whole lot of pyro to reinvent the once-dull 15-minute break separating the two halves of the NFL’s annual championship game. Gone were the days of marching bands and lame production numbers — from '93 on, the Super Bowl halftime would become pop’s premier marketing opportunity, a chance for musical superstars young and old to play their hits for millions and move some product, just like the beer companies.

    Things don’t always work out for the best (see: Jackson, Janet), but most Super Bowl headliners leave the field triumphant. The finest performances keep butts on couches during what might otherwise be a great time to nuke more nachos, and even the misfires give the world something to talk about for a few minutes. What follows is a definitive ranking of all 22 halftime shows since 1993. Grab some chips, watch the clips, read our quips, and marvel at how far the art of lip-syncing has progressed.

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    22. 1995: Patti LaBelle & Tony Bennett Kick It Indy-Style

    This is what happens when you hand Disney the reins. Because the entertainment mega-corp had a new theme-park attraction to plug, millions of viewers were subjected to "Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye," a bizarro stunt spectacular starring soul diva Patti LaBelle as a villainous jungle queen and a slightly befuddled Tony Bennett as a swanky nightclub crooner (not exactly a stretch). Jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and the Miami Sound Machine added some culture and class that was promptly washed away by a dude in a fedora not named Harrison Ford trying to steal the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

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    21. 1997: The Blues Brothers Ride Again

    The 1980 Blues Brothers movie is a classic that needed no sequel. The combo of James Belushi and John Goodman can't make up for the absence of late comedian John Belushi, who created this SNL-bit-turned-movie-franchise with Dan Aykroyd back in the '70s, and that made this opening number kind of a bummer. Luckily, Aykroyd and the gang had James Brown waiting in the wings, and he was his usual sweaty hurricane of screeching soul goodness. Brown, the Blues Bros., and ZZ Top closed with the Spencer Davis Group's "Gimme Some Lovin'," and the bonanza of beards, black suits, and brow sweat just about saved the day.

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    20. 2000: Disney Starts The 21st Century On A Crappy Note

    Once again, Disney was involved, and because the world had just survived the Y2K scare, this was a celebration of global brotherhood featuring Latin pop (Enrique Iglesias and Christina Aguilera), schmaltzy American balladry (Toni Braxton), and the nationless, flavorless song stylings of Phil Collins. Upon watching this halftime show, more than a few viewers returned to those bomb shelters they’d hunkered down in a few weeks earlier.

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    19. 1998: Smokey & The Temps Deliver Oldies But (Pretty) Goodies

    There's always something bittersweet about an oldies revue, but Smokey Robinson and the Temptations sounded pretty darn sweet at this celebration of Motown's 40th anniversary. Give Martha Reeves an A for effort for her lukewarm reading of "Heat Wave," and credit young-ish bucks Queen Latifah and Boyz II Men with nudging things into the '90s. In the end, the entire cast teamed up for a decent "Dancing in the Street," though it’s hard to focus on the music with all those carwash wind-puppet things flapping around in the background.

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    18. 1996: Diana Ross Keeps Us Hanging On

    On a night when "America's team," the Dallas Cowboys, won its third title in four years, one of the country's most enduring soul singers also took a victory lap. The official theme was the 30th anniversary of the Super Bowl, but packed with hits like "You Can't Hurry Love" and "You Keep Me Hanging On," this show was about Diana Ross’ legacy, not the NFL's. Not necessarily the hippest choice in 1996, but Ross was a classy one.